How Internal Constraints Shape Interest Group Activities: Evidence from Access-Seeking PACs

Zhao Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Interest groups contribute much less to campaigns than legally allowed. Consequently, prevailing theories infer these contributions must yield minimal returns. I argue constraints on PAC fundraising may also explain why interest groups give little. I illuminate one such constraint: Access-seeking PACs rely on voluntary donations from affiliated individuals (e.g., employees), and these PACs alienate donors with partisan preferences when giving to the opposite party. First, difference-in-differences analysis of real giving shows donors withhold donations to access-seeking PACs when PACs contribute to out-partisan politicians. Next, an original survey of corporate PAC donors demonstrates they know how their PACs allocate contributions across parties, and replicates the observational study in an experiment. Donors' partisanship thus limits access-seeking PACs' fundraising and influence. This provides a new perspective on why there is little interest group money in elections, and has broad implications for how partisan preferences and other internal constraints shape interest group strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1067-1082
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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